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Secret Knowledge: Rediscovering the Lost Techniques of the Old Masters Hardcover – October 29, 2001
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1. H points out that a huge majority of portraits in the period show the model as left handed--some 80%. This is consistent with use of lenses and inconsistent with the frequency of left-handedness in the population. Now, here is a verifiable fact. Are H's numbers right--or are they not?
2. H is not claiming that everyone 1400-1650 was a poor draftsman. At least in what I've seen so far, he doesn't claim e.g. that Rembrandt used optics. Part of his evidence is however that some artists who were great painters were not great draftsmen--their painting exceeds in accuracy their draftsmanship. Now this appears to me again something that is verifiable by a third party. (The question of H's own draftsmanship abilities is totally irrlevant. I don't like his art much myself).
3. In a highly competitive art market, where realism counted, what is the likelihood that artists would >not< use devices that helped them both with accuracy and speed? Even if the great Ren artists could paint and draw realistically without optics (and their education certainly was thorough), throughput and competitive concerns surely would have pushed them in that direction.
4. To my knowledge, no one has responded to H's claim that the change in light to very strong with dark shadows from about 1400 (light is flat) to 1500 is very consistent with use of optics. Yes, that is not the only possible explanation. But from a philosophy of science perspective, this phenomenon and the phenomenon of increased accuracy need to be explained.Read more ›
There is one sore spot. Historical and scientific types will quickly notice that Hockney reached his conclusions BEFORE his two year search for evidence and that weaknesses in the argument and evidence are not fully considered. The examples appear selective and are possibly not representative. Looking at the sample artwork, you can see his point but would not be suprised to hear valid alternative explanations. Though not proof positive, the work is persuasive, enlightening and more than a little revolutionary.
The first half of this book is visual. It shows the original paintings and drawings that led Hockney to this idea. Once it's pointed out, many signs are unmistakable: odd proportions in otherwise masterful works, inconsistent perspective drawn by people who really knew perspective, and a few other better-known oddities. Although I'm not a fan of Hockney's own work, I respect the training and sensitivity that picked out these features.
Hockney goes on to show how these artifacts could have come from use of a family of optical tools, including camera lucida and several variants on the camera obscura. This is where he brings the most to this book, in trying the tools himself, as an artist, and seeing what unique features each tool imposes on the resulting artworks. This is what has so many critics upset - the idea that the Old Masters might have used every tool possible to complete their commissions faster, and to give their patrons the most pleasing result for the ducat. Those critics know about the assembly-line work in some of the Old Masters' studios and who know about the other mechanical aids that are well documented, but squawk at the idea of adding another tool to their toolboxes. Huh?
Hockney's evidence is often circumstantial, since painting was (and often is) a secretive and competitive business. Still, he offers a good story, and the second half of the book adds a strong foundation of written records to the structure. This is the book's weakness, though. Hockney is an artist, not a historian or optical technologist.Read more ›
While at times Mr. Hockney may overstate the possible use of optics where supreme draughtmanship might explain the mastery of the old masters, his ideas are certainly intriguing and merit further examination. It was especially interesting to me to watch Hockney's own mark-making 'improve' as he himself practised drawing portraits using an optical device invented in the early 19th century. I even found myself thinking, "Hey, where can I get my hands on a camera lucida and give this a whirl, too?"
Despite whatever academic faults one might find with Hockney's method of establishing his theory, the book itself is a joy. Hockney approaches this topic with unabashed enthusiasm, and rewards the reader with lavish and well-elucidated visual aids.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Saw book years ago, could not afford, now it's updated! He is a fantastic person!!!!Published 2 months ago by Randall Laue
Wonderful, wonderful book. Bought it for my sister who has loved art since she was a child and she is crazy about the book. Thank you.Published 4 months ago by Marcia Kronenberg
Great read and excellent sequence of understanding of process.Published 6 months ago by Alfonso S. Torres
Reveals how the tricks employed by modern artists (projectors and transfers) and considered "cheating" by closeted academics have, in fact, existed for six hundred years... Read morePublished 6 months ago by Brian
Hockney is an artist, foremost, not a researcher! Kochansky, at the Brooks Institute of Photography, showed in his preliminary research that Hockney was misguided in many of his... Read morePublished 7 months ago by AtelierLucia